Kind listens in

David Taintor

Health care is the No. 1 issue to address if America expects to move forward as a nation, said U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) late Wednesday afternoon at a health care listening session at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 421 S. Farwell St.

Kind sat on a stool in the front of the sanctuary, listening to the all-too-familiar testimonies of local farmers, small-business owners, substitute teachers, nurses and even a city councilman.

Many of them have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from qualifying for health insurance. Many of those that did have health insurance said their coverage was too limited to provide peace of mind should a health issue arise. Some have deductibles as high as $15,000, and had to choose to insure one family memberover another because they couldn’t afford coverage for the entire family.

“We look to our elected officials to lead courageously in this issue and to acknowledge we’re here,” said Joanne Rudrud of Eau Claire. “We are here.”

Christine Eggers, a nursing professor at Chippewa Valley Technical College, presented Kind with two thick manila envelopes of research and a book about corporate greed in the health insurance industry. Eggers conducted a study with a team of researchers, including UW-Eau Claire’s economics professor Eric Jamelske and nursing professor Lois Taft.

Eggers listed a series of actions she said should be taken, including limits on executive pay, a moratorium on layoffs and universal health care – all to a thunderous applause.

Eau Claire City Councilman and economics professor Thomas Kemp called for standardized health care to reduce the high costs that competition creates. The cost of providing health care for current city employees jumped by 50 percent, and now accounts for 9 percent of the city budget, Kemp said. If there were a way to cut healthcare costs, Kemp said more dollars could be appropriated for providing more and better services for taxpayers, like more firefighters and better snowplowing.

The stories he heard reflect those of other Americans across the country, Kind said. Kind pointed to the 65 percent subsidy on health insurance for the unemployed and the $20 billion appropriation for health information technology (HIT) systems in the stimulus package as a step forward.

Kind applauded President Obama’s recent signature of the child health care bill that guarantees health insurance to 11 million children. The bill is supported financially by a tobacco tax increase. Kind said he hopes Obama will also establish the publicly owned health insurance agency he advocated in his presidential campaign.

But Kind said real change can’t happen unless strong public support overwhelms public interest groups in Washington. He said sessions like yesterday’s are proof that change is possible. He also encouraged relieving pressure on the system by eating well, exercising regularly and not smoking, Kind said.

“We all have a stake in this,” he said. “We all have a role in this.”

Taft said that in their research, their team discovered 70 percent of western Wisconsin residents agreed the health care industry is in a state crisis; 94 percent felt everyone should enjoy the same coverage; and 86 percent thought everyone should pay into the system.

The research supports the need, Taft said, and now it’s time to respond.

“It’s time to stop telling stories and have action.”